Second elections since it became a democracy

Voters in Bhutan braved rain and treacherous mountain paths to cast their ballots on Friday as the “land of the thunder dragon” began electing a government for only the second time.

Wearing traditional dress and sheltering under umbrellas, Bhutanese queued patiently at polling stations in the isolated Himalayan nation in the first round of voting to determine the Lower House of Parliament.

“There are so many pledges in their [politicians’] manifestos but basically what we expect is a government that can bring about happiness to the people and at the same time economic development,” said Chimi Dorji (35) as he waited to vote in Dopshari village, about an hour-and-a-half drive from the capital Thimphu.

“Because without economic prosperity there can’t be happiness,” he added.

Bhutan is the only country in the world to pursue “Gross National Happiness,” a development model that measures the mental as well as material well-being of citizens.

Other policies that have set the country apart include: banning television until 1999, keeping out mass tourism to shield its Buddhist culture and aiming to makeall of its farming 100 percent organic.

While the electorate comprises fewer than 400,000 four lakh people, voting is a huge logistical challenge across the rugged country, where democracy was ushered in just five years ago after Bhutan’s “dragon kings” ceded absolute power.

In the run up to the poll, officials trekked for up to seven days to reach voters in the most remote corners of the country. Armed with satellite phones to send in results, officials have battled heavy rains and slippery leech-infested trails to ensure that even isolated yak-owning nomads can cast their vote, the national Kuensel newspaper reported. — AFP

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